Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2011
: There is a simple, yet remarkable, scene in Kyung-sook Shin’s novel, Please Look After Mom
, where the book’s title character visits her adult son in Seoul. He lives in a duty office in the building where he works, because he can't afford an apartment. At night, they sleep on the floor and she offers to lie next to the wall to shield him from a draft. “I can fall asleep better if I’m next to the wall,” she says. And with this gesture, we catch a glimpse of the depth of love she has for her first-born and the duty-bound sacrifices she’s made on behalf her family. Please Look After Mom
is the story of a mother, and her family’s search for her after she goes missing in a crowded train station, told through four richly imagined voices: her daughter’s, her oldest son’s, her husband’s, and finally her own. Each chapter adds a layer to the story’s depth and complexity, until we are left with an indelible portrait of a woman whose entire identity, despite her secret desires, is tied up in her children and the heartbreaking loss that is felt when family bonds loosen over time. Kyung-sook Shin’s elegantly spare prose is a joy to read, but it is the quiet interstitial space between her words, where our own remembrances and regrets are allowed to seep in, that convicts each one of us to our core.--Shane Hansanuwat
Guest Reviewer: Jamie Ford
Jamie Ford is the
New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Some books change us. They change the way we look at ourselves, the way we interact with those closest to our hearts--the way we’ve loved those people, or the way we’ve missed them or honored them or taken them hopelessly for granted. This is one of those books. This is a book that alters the way we remember.
I’m an author, so this is where my own writerly fail-safes kick-in, warning of hype and hyperbole...but even in reflection...I’m not speaking falsely.
Please Look After Mom isn’t merely a story of familial loss and longing, of the many veils of shame and surrender beneath one roof. This tale is a door, and once you cross its threshold, you’ll never be able to go back to that comfortable place you came from. Your perceptions will be transformed. Permanently.
When Park So-nyo, an elderly mother from a rural town visiting her children on her birthday, vanishes over the event horizon of a crowded Seoul train station, four narratives unfold--four dimensions of loss, anger, blame, and sacrifice--four angles of persistence. (Perhaps it’s no mere coincidence that the number four in Korean is a homonym for “death.”)
But as the four pillars of one family are shaken by this mysterious disappearance, we are also enriched as we learn about the wealth of emotional currency that has been exchanged over one lifetime--tender payments, and the debts owed, from children to parent, from husband to wife, from an aged mother to...herself.
This book is four stories, four echoes, four promises, and four lamentations--that make a whole.
This is your gentle warning, dear reader.
And an invitation, to the kind of book I wish I could read again for the first time.
This novel from widely acclaimed Korean author Shin focuses on motherhood and family guilt. Park So-nyo, mother of four now-adult children, has gone missing in a Seoul train station on the way to visit them. The novel is told in four parts, from the perspectives of, first, her daughter, and then, her firstborn son, her husband, and finally, So-nyo herself. Composed almost entirely in second-person narration, the writing is sharp, biting, and intensely moving. So-nyo’s children continually battle with their own guilt for not taking better care of her while reminiscing about the times when they were young, growing up in incredible poverty in the countryside. The children come to terms with their mother’s absence in their own ways, and their father repents for a lifetime of neglect. When So-nyo’s voice enters the narrative, the portrait of a troubled but loving family is complete. Secrets are revealed, and the heart of a mother is beautifully exposed. This Korean million-plus-copy best-seller is an impressive exploration of family love, poverty, and triumphing over hardship. --Julie Hunt